How I discovered you can’t be a SAHM and working mom at the same time.

How I discovered you can’t be a SAHM and working mom at the same time.
Serenity now, Tina. Serenity now.

This past September was the start of a new phase of life for the Bailey household: Both my girls officially became grade schoolers. And that meant a huge change. For the first time ever, I had Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 2:30pm, all to myself.

FREEEEEEDOM! Right?

Well, sort of. I am a freelance copywriter and social media manager, so I still had clients to attend to and work to do. But I thought that at least work would be easier to manage this school year. No more crazy schedule of cramming in work during preschool and babysitter hours. I would have dedicated chunks of time to get stuff done. Thirty hours a week. Heaven.

And, oh, all the other things I could do with that time! I would be efficient! Effective! A kick-butt, part-time working mom, part-time SAHM! It’s that Holy Grail “balance” that so many moms wish they could have, and I was going to have it. (You can stop snickering. I’ll wait.)

I expected myself to have a successful career and a efficiently-run household.

But what I got was exactly the opposite.

In my delusional state — brought on by the extreme joy of my new freedom, I guess — I thought that each week I’d be able to take on more client work, volunteer at the kids’ schools, grocery shop, go to Target, do laundry, exercise, and prepare healthy dinners. And squeeze in some me-time, too. All before the kids came home from school. Then I’d help with homework, get the girls to activities, and get a healthy meal on the table.

I really thought it was possible.

What actually happened was this: I was so frazzled during the first part of the school year that I was an anxious, overwhelmed, ball of stress. Each day ended up being so carefully orchestrated that there was no room for error. When something went wrong or I didn’t get all the to-dos on the list done, I felt like a complete failure. Which was almost every day.

I got to a point where my coping strategy was this: Every Monday morning for two hours, I charted the week out on a weekly planner I printed out from some super-organized Pinteresty mom blog. I scheduled every moment of time down to the hour. I planned every dinner for each night. I planned out every work deadline, every errand, every household task, and every kid activity. Each item got assigned its own time slot. Everything. Was. Planned.

Shocker: This didn’t relieve my stress.

Of COURSE it made me more stressed. It made my kids more stressed. And it became clear that there was no managing this busy, hectic life I had created. It was just too much.

I had vastly overestimated how much more time I’d actually have with the kids in school and held myself to an impossibly high standard. I fell into the “I can get it all done” trap. And I told myself I could accomplish everything a SAHM would do and everything a working mom would do. HA. Maybe some women can do it, but I’m not one of them.

It took living through that craziness for a few months (and more than a few pretty terrible, anxiety-filled nights) to come to my senses.

Now we’re back from winter break and I’m giving myself a do-over.

How am I restoring my sanity?

– The biggest change I’m making is changing my view of myself. I am not a part-time SAHM mom and part-time working mom. I am a part-time working mom who happens to work out of the house. I’m considering the hours when the kids are at school to be work-only hours. No grocery shopping or errands. No laundry. Nothing but work.

My home office is an office, and now I treat it like one. It’s no longer the family dumping ground for stuff that has nowhere to go. I’ve cleaned it out and organized it (enough). Each morning I get up, shower, and get dressed like I’m going to the office. Because I am.

And I can’t even tell you the difference it’s made in just a week and a half.

Giving myself permission to forget household stuff and focus only on work has been so freeing. Yes, there is a lot of dirty laundry piling up. Yes, it’s a little hectic cramming a grocery store run in while my girls are at their dance classes. And yes, I have to go to Target on the weekend. But Hubs and I figured all this out when I worked full-time in an office. It worked then, so it can work again.

After I get more comfortable with my new work schedule, I expect I’ll do the occasional load of laundry here and there to lighten the burden on the weekends. I’ll probably throw a very simple dinner in the crockpot while I heat up my lunch every once in a while. But that’s it — I’m not doing more than that. Work time is work time. End of story.

– Another thing I’m doing is I’m ending work when the kids are done with school. I’m no longer trying to cram in more while they’re watching TV or doing homework. This is making me more efficient during work hours, and more present for them when they’re home with me. There will soon be a day when they don’t want to hang around with me after school, so I’m going to take advantage of this time that they do.

– Lastly, Hubs and I are expecting the girls to entertain themselves more on the weekend so we can get stuff done. There’s no time for me to do projects during the week now, so this is just the way it has to be. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be ignoring the kids. Like this weekend, I’ll take the girls skiing. We’ll play a family game at some point and probably go out to brunch on Sunday. But I’ll also finish organizing my office, Hubs will do laundry, and the girls will keep themselves busy. Or — gasp — even help!

I still haven’t figured out how to fit fun time for me or exercise time in all this. What I’m doing is not a perfect plan. But what is? And I know this has to be better than the first semester of the school year. Anything would be.

I guess I’m getting back to my working-mom mentality. I was able to do it before. Lots of you are able to do it. And there’s no reason why I can’t figure this out.

Right? Right.